Somatic Attachment Focused EMDR

Somatic and Attachment Focused (S.A.F.E) EMDR was developed by Deborah Kennard after many years as an EMDR trainer, teaching Francine Shapiro’s training through EMDR HAP and the EMDR Institute. It was developed to address some common blocks that many therapists were experiencing when working with clients who have experienced complex trauma.

Francine Shapiro’s EMDR Therapy is based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model. The premise of that model is that disturbing experiences become stored in a different way than other experiences. When something traumatic or disturbing happens it becomes stored in the system with all of the aspects of the original experience. Present moment events trigger that dysfunctionally stored memory, resulting in what appears to be an over reaction. The AIP model has been studied by scientists and verified in laboratories.

After the completion of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Level 3 and becoming a Certified Sensorimotor Psychotherapist, Deborah Kennard developed S.A.F.E. EMDR, as a way to bring in the powerful aspects of the body centered psychotherapies while maintaining fidelity to the EMDR model. The ultimate goal of the S.A.F.E. EMDR approach is to facilitate the most safe and efficient way to implement EMDR Therapy. S.A.F.E. EMDR incorporates the principles of nonviolence and mindfulness to the EMDR therapy training as well as a simplified way to conceptualize attachment and somatic theories. Nonviolence and mindfulness are important aspects of effective therapy of any type, but especially trauma therapies. These principles foster the conditions for healing to occur.

One major and unique difference in is the concept of “The Answer.” "The Answer" is the way that your body has adapted in order to stay safe or stay connected to caregivers. This concept is woven in to all 8 phases of the EMDR therapy. The understanding that the adaptation creates our characteristics in personality as well as body type has been a part of other psychological type theories such as Wilhelm Reicht’s Character Types and Pat Ogden and Ron Kurtz’s Character Strategies. S.A.F.E. EMDR sees these adaptations as strengths. The Answer is a simplified way to conceptualize the client’s attachment patterns and adaptation to the environment including, the family culture, genetics and traumatic experiences. which may have resulted in a restricted sense of feeling safe in the present moment, also referred to a decreased “window of affect tolerance” (Dan Siegel).

We start off using the concept of The Answer in phases 1 and 2, history and preparation phase, asking a series of questions to identify your strengths and current resources. This provides a sense of safety and avoids common retraumatization by rushing into the details of the trauma too quickly. Understanding what you are already good at and areas that may need more development allows us to know what may come up during EMDR processing. We can then work together to develop resources to help the body stay settled and safe during reprocessing. All of this is done in collaboration with you and in the spirit of appreciation in the way your body adapted to the events of the past to keep you healthy and safe.

Two common results of complex trauma are: difficulty regulating affect and difficulty having stable relationships. These two common symptoms are addressed in the somatic and attachment model. The somatic aspect addresses the neurobiological, automatic responses of our survival defenses that become activated, and keep you from being able to feel safe when you are safe. The relational difficulties show up in attachment patterns that were adaptive at the time in order to keep the client safe and connected to the caregivers, but now often present as a barrier to authentic connection.

Part of the beauty of this approach is predicting how your strength, “The Answer,” which is also your block to healing, will appear throughout the treatment process. This prediction helps to foster awareness and together we can resource so this block does not impede the process. As your “Answer” appears, we welcome and appreciate how it was helpful to you in the past. This welcoming allows you to bring awareness to the block, while appreciating the adaptive nature of it, which often leaves you open to other options and more choices.

Although this concept appears simple, there is a great depth to it. “The Answer” is the thing we did to adapt as a human, to keep safe and attached to caregivers. It becomes our strength as well as block to healing and intimacy. As the therapist, if we can welcome this adaptation, also referred to as the defense or resistance, and appreciate it, your system can relax the defense and ultimately willingly allow the defense to soften.

With this approach we are also viewing the therapy experience in terms of your missing experience. The missing experience is the missing attachment need that went unfulfilled. When your body experiences what has been missing in the present moment, it often activates both the sadness of longing and the hope of finally having that longing met.

The somatic emphasis of the process is important in working with high levels of fear. The understanding of somatic representations of trauma and effective somatic interventions provide opportunities for your body to release excess arousal from the nervous system.

We welcome the present moment and whatever is here. We welcome and savor the new connections and new positive insights. We also welcome confusion, conflict and blocks as instruments to increased awareness and an opportunity for transformation.